published Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Bradley County, Tenn., property tax vote delayed

Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock
Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock
  • photo
    Charlotte Peak-Jones facing the issues at the Bradley County 4th District County Commission Debate. Contributed by Nathan Ball
    Contributed by Nathan Ball

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — A property tax proposal intended to fund $14 million in renovations at Lake Forest Middle School has been tabled to give the Bradley County Commission time to explore other funding options.

On Monday, Commissioner Jeff Morelock, sponsor of the property tax proposal, asked to postpone the vote until July 1 after Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones said she recently had received alternative funding program information from Cope Associates Architecture.

"I think it's our due diligence to look at every alternative, even if it turns out to be a fluke," Peak-Jones said. "I think we should at least investigate it, look at it and see what the man has to say. That being said, I don't want to vote for a property tax increase until we have explored every option."

Peak-Jones said she was not familiar with the architectural firm's alternative funding program, but asked the Bradley County Commission to schedule a meeting with its representatives.

The proposed property tax, which now calls only for an increase equivalent to the amount needed to fund a bond payment for the capital renovation project, has been previously targeted at 8 cents per $100 of assessed value, assuming a $21 million bond will be needed.

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    Lake Forest Middle School students change classes in the afternoon. While many walkways are covered between pod buildings on the campus, faculty members said several metal overhangs are prone to leaking during wet weather.
    Photo by Paul Leach.
    enlarge photo

If Bradley County raises $14 million for Lake Forest, it must raise another $7 million for Cleveland City Schools based on an agreement that requires the county to raise $1 for city schools for every $2 it raises for the county school system. That agreement is driven by student enrollment numbers in the city and county school systems.

If the county accepts a $1 million offer recently made by the Bradley County Board of Education, Morelock said, it probably would take a 7 cent property tax increase to meet the necessary bond payment.

A 7 cent increase is about a 4 percent increase and would mean a $17.50 annual tax increase on a home valued at $100,000, he said.

Bradley County Schools' $1 million offer requires the county to commit to a funding plan by July 1, 2014, and to start construction no later than July 1, 2015.

Peak-Jones said she repeatedly tried to make it clear to the school board that projected revenue growth likely would not occur before the end of fiscal year 2016.

The Lake Forest Middle School renovation, a top priority for Bradley County Schools for a number of years, calls for construction of a 57-classroom academic building to replace classroom pods spread across the 75-acre campus.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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